Friday, September 11, 2009

South Africa: why it's a stretch...

South African culture is VERY different from the one I experience in America. I have a hard time trying to make it all work for me and am hoping at some point I “get it.” So far, I’m sinking with it. South Africans don’t communicate directly. What exactly does this mean? Let me see if I can explain it a bit.

For example, I was told on Friday last week:“The car will pick you up at 9:00 am on Monday morning to drive you to Vryburg so that you can meet with other volunteers to travel to Pretoria.” In my mind, it meant, be ready at 9:00 on Monday morning so that my ride will have me in town on time to make this trip to Pretoria work. (We were given an “assignment” by PC to travel to Pretoria as a group so we get the feel of it before we try it on our own.)

On Monday morning at 9:00 am, I’m standing on my stoop with my bags packed waiting for my ride. At 9:08, I’m wondering if I’m in the right spot. At 9:10, I’m heading for the office because 10 minutes of my 30 minute trip to Vryburg are gone and I’m to be in Vryburg at 9:30. At 9:12 or so, I arrive at the office whereby I try to find out where my ride is. I’m not full-blown panicked yet, but am close.

The first person I ask invites me to sit down and have a chat. When I remain standing and point to my watch, the nice lady looks perplexed and proceeds to ask someone else. The someone else very patiently tells me I need to sign the register. Sign the register? I’m asking a question. No, please sign the register and note when you arrive and when you leave. So, I sign the register in at 9:20, and out as 9:21. Where is my ride?

As I try to explain that a ride has been arranged, person after person tells me they no nothing of it. I’m in full blown panic by the time an American arrives to my aid who quickly announces, “Urgency will get you no where here.” She was right. Urgency got me nowhere.

I finally arrived in Vryburg an hour late, and my traveling group was delayed by 2 hours, and we arrived in Pretoria too late to make it to Marypane, so we overnighted at a Pretoria Backpackers.

This is a pretty involved example, but it can be as small as, “Would you like tea?” If you reply yes to this question, and are the youngest woman in the house at the time, you’re expected to “make tea,” which is really making tea, coffee, and egg sandwiches for everyone in the household.

So, why is this a big deal? Well, I’ve personally spent many dollars in personal counseling whereby I learned that this type of communication is dysfunctional and one can’t function appropriately in it. Welcome to South Africa. Their whole culture is BASED UPON INDIRECT COMMUNICATION. That’s why I’m having a hard time.

But I jump ahead of myself.

Hello everyone, I'm back to training after a week's visit to my permanent site. Ok you guys w/ the google maps, I'm not telling the location exactly, b/c I don't think we're supposed to on a blog. Those of you needing my address/phone (YES, I HAVE A PHONE--FINALLY), the "heavy hitters" have it: family.

Ok, so site was great and I'll be fine. Everyone hates me b/c I'll have a flush toilet, kitchent, etc. In fact, I hate me. :-)

It'll be great. The campus has internet so I'll be in contact regularly, will be able to post pics, etc. I'm a lucky, lucky girl.

I'll be working with the college, of course, and a primary school for sure. There's also a secondary school I have my eye on and hope to be involved with community projects as well.

THERE IS A COMMUNITY GARDEN! I'm thrilled. One of the other trainees has already gifted me with marigold seeds (a favorite).

I think I'm mostly glad to be going somewhere I can finally unpack. I'm such a bad traveller.

I feel a bit nervous about coming in behind a leaving PC volunteer. She's a powerhouse dynamo--it's awestriking to see all that she's accomplished. I'm going to try not to worry too much...

What else...

I'm online instead of studying for my Setswana test. It's today at 2:00-2:30. I guess you guys are still in bed, or are just getting up (it's lunchtime here). I'm sick of studying and am thinking, "If I don't know it well enough, too bad.)

So, it takes awhile for internet to load here, so while I was waiting for the blog to load, I read some of the comments. It is always, ALWAYS good to hear from everyone at home, but it was a treat to hear from Deanna's brother in Atlanta: Hi John!

I so miss my family. I knew I would. I miss deciduous trees, lakes, rivers, GRASS. :-)

I'm sure I'll fall in love with Africa and that my falling in love will sneak up on me.

So, my dad and his wife vacationed in South Africa a year or so ago. She brought home a GAJILLION photos of South African sunsets. Now I know why. The South African sky is the most beautiful I've ever seen. Each and every sunset is picture-perfect. The night-time sky takes my breath away everytime I look up.

Oh, and there is no daylight savings time here. :-)
The sun rises about 6:30 am and sets about 6:30 pm. I'm glad of this, because somewhere along the line I turned into an "early to bed, early to rise" kind of girl.

My hair. Many of you know that I debated over cutting my hair or not before leaving. Boy, I sure wish I didn't have this mess with me. It is such a pain to wash in a basin. Ick. I hate it. But I'm still hanging on to it. More than one person has said that long hair provides natural insulation against the heat once it gets here. And it's getting here!

Coffee. (I guess I'm having random thoughts here.) They have this ridiculous drink here called "Ricoffy" and it is manufactured by Nestle (or maybe Nescafe). The first three ingredients listed on the label are three forms of sugar: dextrose, sucrose, fructose followed by "and the highest quality water soluable parts of select coffee beans." Yes, I'm drinking tea.

More on SA culture.

I've had some interesting discussions with my home-stay host father. One involved his opinion on my children. Although he's happy about my having two sons, he thinks I lag behind the ideal of 10 children and that I should have at least 3 more. (Although 10 is the ideal, he'll settle for 5). When I offer up that I'm 46, no matter. He knows of a woman in China that is 91 and still child bearning. When I mention the cost, he states this is for God to decide. At this point the question of "do you want to be right or happy" weighed in on the happy side, and I didn't mention anything about family planning or women's reproductive rights in America, or the fact that I didn't feel I did a very good job the first time around.

There was also great concern on why I was sleeping with my sleeping bag instead of using the family linen. Well, even before the scorpion escapade, I was using my sleeping bag because it reminded me of home. This explanation was completely unacceptable, but here again, I resolved to be happy rather than explain, and used it until recently (when it has started getting too hot and besides, I left it at my permanent site).

One day, somewhat early on, I had discovered a handkerchief in my suitcase that I had overlooked so it hadn't been laundered in Africa yet. I smelled of the handkerchief and was so overwelmed with the smell that I was quite distracted for a bit. It smelled of home. I must have closed my eyes and breathed in heavily because when I opened my eyes, the whole family was staring at me and asked what was wrong.

It's amazing what a fragrance can do.

We had a workshop detailing the emotions of Peace Corps volunteers. Apparently, the first 6 months are very difficult and the training is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster ride. It was helpful to know that I'm right where I'm supposed to be, emotionally, even if it is rather distressing.

I reviewed my journal last night and although there is a lot of writing, there are a few intances of :
I hate Africa.
I hate Americans.
I hate Setswana.
I hate English.

There are many better days, I'm happy to report.

Just another bit on language, then I really do, need to go study my language.

I suck at learning a foreign language. It is the most difficult thing for me to do. When I do it, I have to lock myself away in a room, make flash cards, do study sheets, etc. It is horrifically difficult for me. I almost didn't earn my Master's Degree because it took me FOUR tries to pass my foreign language proficiency test.

So, my host family thinks I should pick up Setswana by hearing them speak it to me. So, they say a phrase, the odd sounds glance off of my gray matter, and I have no idea what was said. So they repeat it LOUDER. The African people are very passionate and very demonstrative. After a few evenings of feeling shouted at, I retreated to my room and have basically disappeared. Needless to say, I haven't had a lot of practice SPEAKING the language, but hopefully I've memorized enough to muddle through. Will know in a bit.

Btw, science has shown that there is a "critical period" whereby if a child learns an additional language by the time or around the time that they are TWELVE OR THIRTEEN years old, they have a good chance of becomming fluent. Need I remind anyone that I'm 46 years old?

Ok, nuff for now, I'm off to it.

As always, PC is not responsible or in anyway connected, supportive of, etc., anything that is posted here. All thoughts, feelings, interpretations, misinterpretations, are mine!

Missing you all, more than you can know! k


  1. Hello! So good to finally get a post from you. Yes, it does sound very, very hard but the hard part is getting shorter and the good part is getting closer. Just hang in there. You could just cut about 8" from your hair so that it is all the same length and it might be easier to manage. You will still have plenty left for insulation. All is well here and I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say to your newest installment. Love you

  2. Hello, Karen,

    It's Bonster trying to get on. Testing

  3. Hi Karen... (our very own Karen Dinesen von Blixen-Finecke).

    I was anxiously awaiting your next blog. The last had me a tiny bit worried (what with the host family problems, H1N1, scorpions, and trying to pimp you out). Sounds more like Las Vegas than SA! ha ha

    I gave Tam a wedding reception last Saturday. We had a backyard full of people. We missed you not being there. I know you would have enjoyed it. I rented a champagne fountain and put Hawaiian Punch in it for all the kids. It was a beautiful day, just the kind you like. Tanya came, and we got a pretty good pic of us three with our three girls, all 18 years now.

    I’m so glad you will be going to your permanent site soon. Are you still learning Setswana from the school girl, in return for hard candy?

    Please know that even though I don't always comment, I pour over each and every one of your blogs, living vicariously thru you!

    Again, I’m so proud of you. Please stay safe and help many people. Love, Nancy

  4. Hey gal, Deanna came over last night and we had a troubleshooting session until she got me on this d... blog. I think we were thinking to much. I hope this gets through okay and you can actually see this? I wanted to say how great it is going to be when we can talk to one another instead of all of this blog, mail poop. I miss you and D misses you and the little people miss you too! There are so many questions and so little time. When do you get a phone? When do you get a home? Will we be able to call you or just wait until you can call us? I know I will be down on that list so I will just wait until I hear that you have called, and get the news via grape vine, etc. I will close for now and let you mull over the consequences of getting a phone and address. I will still write, this doesn't give me know. Oh hey, Bernheim is tagging butterflies, now there is a job for ya. I will send you the article if it hasn't made it to recycling. Love you bunches, Bonnie

  5. Karen, Make sure not to miss your mom's comment. It's on a different posting (for some reason, your 09/11 blog was posted five times, and your mom commented on the third one).

    Love, Nanc

  6. dumb me, I posted on a different 9/11 blog, thanks Nancy:

    Hello from Leitchfield!! I am counting the days until I know you are safe in your room at Vuselela. I keep thinking that as tired as you are, that your "family" is showing you a "good time" during your last few days there. Then everyone will keep you busy at your college, then perhaps rest? I know you are tired, and hope you can take a few days off? As can I as I will feel much better about your housing. and safety.
    I think I told you about a series of books "the #1 ladies detective agency", which is set in Botswana in an area where they speak setswana. They have a series on HBO, same people, similar stories (very basic, lite reading, but enjoyable stories) I purchased the DVD's, and get a few words that you have referred to. Not that I will learn setswana, but it is good to hear some of the words pronounced.

    Deanna is excited about a program called Skype, where you can talk and see each other with a computer. It is free to call if you both use skype, and cheap if only one uses it. I have found a calling card company called "African Safari phone co. which costs 4 cents a minute, and I can buy 270 minutes for $10. The cost for me doesn't matter, as I don't believe we will talk for hours. And I know you will have much more important things to do than talk on the phone. Deanna was concerned that she was unable to call you, but I reassured her that there were no phone towers in your village.

    Everyone here is fine. Joe, Mom, and everyone. Weather is cooling a bit, and I see by the weather map, that your area is heating up. When do the rainy seasons start?

    Know that I think of you all the time, pray for you. I am always thinking of what you may be doing and what time it is there!!

    Love you so much

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